Thursday, August 25, 2016

Martial Arts Analysis: Force Sword-And-Buckler Combat

Force Sword-and-Buckler Combat

Star Wars doesn't feature a force buckler, but Psi-Wars definitely does. The combination of force sword and force buckler over heavy combat hardsuits definitely gives the image of a knight, which is something we want, and it's become Dun Beltain's signature. Fortunately, Kelly Pederson already gave us a martial art that lets us give force buckler weilders as much fancy training as the force sword wielders. She notes that the DB bonus of a shield gives an edge to non-psychic characters, as we've already seen from the fact that a non-psychic Dun was perfectly competent in combat.


Force Sword-and-Buckler combat is much simpler than Force-Swordmanship. It has only two standard skills: Force Sword and Shield (Force), whose uses should be immediately obvious. The optional skills largely match the optional skills of Force-Swordsmanship. Armoury (Force Shields) and Armoury (Force Sword) give us the ability to build, and maintain, our own weapons. Fast-Draw (Force Sword) helps us get our weapon out quickly, if we need it (a Force Buckler is just a bracelet on one hand that can be activated with the touch of a button). Savoir-Faire (Dojo) is just standard martial arts fair. Karate and Wrestling serve much the same purpose that they do in Force-Swordmanship: The ability to have a new avenue of attack, and for dealing with non-conventional attacks.

Most of the Cinematic Skills follow the typical Force-Swordmanship fair, and exist largely to fulfill our expectations of a cinematic force-swordsman: Blind Fighting, Body Control, Kiai, Mental Strength and Power Blow are all found on Force-Swordsmanship, and I have largely the same opinion about them. New to Force Sword-and-Buckler are Immovable Stance, Push and Precognitive Block (Which is to shields what precognitive parry is to swords). Flying Leap is absent, as is Acrobatics. The description of the style states that stylists do not move unless they wish to, and they are very adept at moving others. Thus, they lack the kinetic maneuverability of a force-swordsman, preferring a slow, plodding approach where they hide behind their shield while making reasonable progress towards the enemy. Once they reach their enemy, they can do a bull-rush with the shield, or they can just bounce someone off their shield with a Push. Meanwhile, such tactics do not work well against them. You can fire missiles and massive cannons at them and, assuming their shield can take it, when the smoke clears, they're still standing there.

Precognitive Block causes a bit of a problem, as we'd already said that force bucklers could just parry blaster fire... and it worked fine! So, do we want to require people to spend points and learn skills to an extreme degree to gain access to the ability to block blasterfire?


Like Force-Swordmanship, Force Sword-and-Buckler Combat has Feint, and several targetted attacks (Swing at Weapon, Arm or Leg) as techniques. It also has Back Strike and Counter Attack. For Cinematic techniques, it has dual weapon defense and adds timed defense.

Once again, Feint, from the description, isn't actually feint, but a beat (see MA 100) where the force-swordsman whacks his opponent's weapon out of the way, though in this case with his shield. It's a good idea for all the same reasons that beat is a good idea for a force-swordsman, except that high levels of ST is not preferable to high levels of DX for the average force swordsman, and a beat is generally a less effective tactic than a feint, so anyone who takes the feint technique will use it to feint.

These targetted attacks make more sense. The arm and the leg can still be crippled and attacking the weapon is actually a tactic described in Force-Swordsmanship.

Here, we actually have Counter Attack, which makes perhaps more sense than it does for Force-Swordmanship, as the Force Sword-and-Buckler stylist will wait and then counter attack.

Back Strike and Timed Defense means that the character doesn't even have to turn to face his opponent to defend, and they also fit the approach of a typical Jedi-character.


Force Sword-and-Buckler Combat has Chi-Resistance, Grip Mastery, Rolling Stone (a new perk), Shield-Wall Training, special setups, and sure-footed, with Weapon Bond as optional. Chi-Resistance is a holdover from Force Swordsmanship and not necessary in Psi-Wars. The Special Setups, Sure-Footed and Weapon Bond are similarly holdover and as appropriate. Grip Mastery's purpose is unclear to me, as you can't enter a defensive grip while holding two items. Rolling Stone exists to improve Evaluate, thus encouraging the tactic (but forcing us to face Evaluates weakness as a combat tactic). Shield Wall Training lets you defend an ally beside you (appropriate) and lets you ignore the -2 from attacking with a large shield. That's interesting, as I was unsure if Force Buckler should qualify for that penalty. It seems Kelly, at least, thinks it should.


This style is so superior to Force-Swordsmanship that it feels like errata, and I suspect if I rewrite Force-Swordmanship, I'll use a lot of this as the base. It's also cleaner and more focused than Force-Swordmanship, full of options that I expect more players would actually explore, rather than a bunch of unnecessary options that most players would ignore.

Force-Swordsmanship was written to capture the feel of the movies. Force Sword-and-Buckler Combat was written with an understanding of actual GURPS weapons, mechanics and tactics. Thus, it's hardly surprising that it's more useful. It represents why I prefer the Create Don't Convert approach, because by creating something true to GURPS, we can make a superior style, rather than fussing with what fits a movie. The result is that Dun gets to smirk at more traditional force-swordsmen as he goes to battle with a perfectly viable combat technique.

That said, it does raise some questions. Should we require Precognitive Block to block blaster fire? How does it interact with the ability to reflect blasts back at people? Most players consider evaluate a sub-optimal maneuver, so how do we encourage people to take a style that focuses on it? If it lacks mobility, will that eventually pose a problem? How do we deal with the high ST requirements of Beats as well as the fact that force swords don't really reward high ST? And if we do encourage high ST, is Push really a better option than just a straight shove?

A Sample Force Sword-and-Buckler combatant

Assuming DX 14, IQ 13, Will 15 and Combat Reflexes.

Advantages: Combat Sense 1 [24], ESP Talent +1 [5], Weapon Master (Force Sword and Buckler) [25]
Perks: Style Familiarity (Force-Swordsmanship) [1], Special Set-up (Power-Blow) [1]
Skills: Combat Sense (H) IQ* [2]-13, Force Sword (A) DX+2 [12]-17, Shield (Force) (E) DX+3 [12]-18, Precognitive Block (H) IQ+1* [4]-14, Power-Blow (H) Will+1 [8]-16
Techniques: Counter Attack (H) Force Sword-0 [6]-18

The above character is, in addition to his stats, 100 points. This is also the minimum necessary effectiveness for a character with precognitive block.

Precognitive Block requires Trained by a Master or Weapon Master, either Danger Sense or Precognition (Combat Sense includes Danger Sense), a weapon skill of 18, and gains a bonus based on your ESP talent. Here, Enhanced Parry won't help us, though Enhanced Block might, but skill-18 is required for Precognitive Block. Given that we can only block once (without an optional rule), I'm not sure how good an option this is.

This Space Knight has a parry of 12, +1 from a successful Combat Sense roll, +3 from his shield's DB, for a maximum of 16. Against blaster fire, he can block (once!) with a skill of 13, +1 from Combat Sense. That's comparable to our Force-Swordsman, though the single block is dangerous. Still, he can dodge pretty reasonably at 10 + 3 from DB.

The total character above is already (assuming 50 points in disadvantages) 215 points, which is surprisingly reasonable, but makes him a one-trick pony if we try to fit him into 250 points. At 300 points, he might be fairly flexible. But again, we find that we need a lot of points to be appropriately good at a cinematic martial art.
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